What do you find most challenging about teaching yoga online? This is a Facebook post I came across the other day in a forum for yoga teachers. Despite the occasional microphone mishaps and jaunty screen angles, most responses referenced the loss of human connection in their online classes.
Of course, yoga teachers are not alone in feeling this lack of community. Let’s face it, a Friday night Zoom quiz doesn’t quite compare to a few drinks down the pub. However, it is perhaps felt more pertinently among those in the yoga profession: their career being built on fostering connection, building community and the sharing of energy.
For those of you who are struggling to conjure that same studio energy over a faltering Wi-Fi connection, here are some suggestions for ways to reconnect with your yoga students during lockdown.
Recreate the studio experience by building a familiar setting for your practice, and encourage your students to do the same. This may involve asking your students to light a particular incense stick, or sending out a soundtrack for your students to play during the class. These small environmental queues conjure the feeling of physically being in the classroom and stimulate that same group energy.
Get a feel for the class atmosphere by welcoming each student into your e-class individually. Just as you would an in-person class, spend a couple of minutes speaking to each of your students before the class begins to suss out their energy and adapt the class accordingly. For the “Zoom-ers” among us, use the “Waiting Room” as a virtual holding space for your students before the meeting begins. As the host, you can permit and greet each student into your e-studio individually.
You may wish to take this further by spending 5 minutes before the class begins to speak with the group as a collective. This is an opportunity to encourage your students to chat to and connect with one another: most frequently the foundations for a strong class community. Use this time to check you are clear on the screen and easily audible; your projection and presence in the class are huge factors in creating an atmosphere.
Pre-lockdown, your class was made up of individuals leading very distinct lives. Now, however, we are all very much living a shared experience. We are awakened to the fact that we really are all in this together.
Drawing on this in class emphasises a sense of community and solidarity. Whether you focus on poses to help relieve anxiety, sequences to relieve back pain or calming flows to aid sleep, keeping the class relevant to your students’ experience generates a sense of togetherness and group understanding.
The option to “turn off camera” really is the Achilles heel of online yoga classes. Creating a meaningful relationship with a blank screen is certainly not something you learn in a Teacher Training Course. If you feel comfortable doing so, gently ask your students to turn their camera on during the practice. A soft nudge may be all they need. Being able to see one another will reinforce the group connection and intimacy.
While you should reassure your students that they are under no obligation to turn on their video setting, doing so will allow you to be able to assess their practice. While you cannot physically adjust, you can offer suggestions, modifications and words of encouragement to replicate the studio environment.
Mentoring in the form of one to one calls or smaller group calls will deepen your relationship with your students, as I outline in greater detail in this post here. During these brief sessions, you can catch up with the individual, see where their practice is at and what they could work on.
As we remain in isolation these small interactions are hugely appreciated and will ultimately serve to deepen the student-teacher relationship. Furthermore, as many people find they have more time on their hands to create a home practice, assisting them to create a safe and effective personal base will foster loyalty in the long run.
Zoom may not be able to replicate the same buzzing energy of a class about to begin class, however, using some of the above measures you may be able to foster a more meaningful connection with your students in lockdown than were the studio doors still open.